Friday, October 30, 2015

Return of the Dead

The relationship of the living and the dead is an oft debated topic by the sages. Judaism firmly believes that, post mortem, a person's neshama (soul) goes to an afterworld known as Olam Habah, the world to come. But do the dead play any role in Olam Hazeh, this world, when they are gone? Many Talmudic sages were sure that the dead visit this world, especially cemeteries.

Rabbi Hiyya and Rabbi Jonathan were walking in a cemetery and the blue fringe (tzitzit) of Rabbi Jonathan trailed on the ground. Said Rabbi Hiyya to him: “Lift it up, so that they [the dead] should not say: ‘Tomorrow they are coming to join us [as they too shall die] and now they are insulting us [by showing off their ritual garments]!'” Rabbi Jonathan replied: “Do they know so much? Is it not written, ‘But the dead know not anything?'” (Berachot 18a). A long argument ensues in which different Biblical verses are cited. In the end, however, Rabbi Jonathan agrees with Rabbi Hiyya that the dead do visit this world. 

This is supported by an earlier statement (Berachot 18a): “It has been taught: ‘A man should not walk in a cemetery with tefillin on his head or a Torah on his arm, and recite the Shema,' and if he does so, he comes under the heading of ‘He that mocks the poor blasphemes his Maker' (Proverbs 17:5)." A person studying Torah or fulfilling mitzvot in a cemetery is mocking the dead who can no longer perform those mitzvot. 

Whether one believes that the dead are watching and interacting with this world or not, halacha (Jewish law) puts great stock in respecting the dead, if only to teach the living to be more sensitive to the living people around them.

This Treat was last posted on October 30, 2009.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Enhancement

Buy or prepare a nice dessert to enhance your Shabbat.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

National Hermit Day

Judaism is not known for encouraging asceticism. While the Torah commands the Jewish people to “afflict” themselves on Yom Kippur by fasting and refraining from certain pleasurable activities, it is also a day of communal prayer. On the whole, Judaism focuses on celebrating and sanctifying all the wonders of God’s creation. Instead of refraining from delicious foods, one elevates them by reciting blessings. The celebration of Shabbat centers around feasts of food and wine. In fact, it is customary to festively prepare for each holiday with the purchase of something new to wear, etc. In Tractate Kiddushin of the Jerusalem Talmud, our Sages teach: “On the day of judgment, every human being will be held accountable for everything that he or she beheld and did not partake of.” In effect, the Talmud is stating that God gave the world to humankind, and instructed people to enjoy what He has given. Failure to appreciate God’s world is, in effect, a sin, denying God’s benevolence.

Today, October 29th, is National Hermit Day. While Judaism’s distaste for asceticism discourages the life of a hermit, it does often share one particular value espoused by National Hermit Day, which is to encourage people to spend time in seclusion and using that time for contemplation. Many feel that this generation, with its ubiquitous personal electronic devices and cell phones, is especially in need of quiet time.

The concept espoused by National Hermit Day reflect the practices made popular by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a 19th century Chassidic rebbe and the great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi Nacham advocated hitbodedut, engaging in daily self-seclusion focussed on conversing privatly with God.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Alone Time

Take time today for some quiet contemplation - perhaps on your commute home from work.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cutting Through Stone

By all accounts, the First Temple was a magnificent edifice built with cedars from Lebanon and enormous quarried stones. When contemplating the manner in which the Temple was constructed, one comes across a unique conundrum. In Exodus, God clearly states: “And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you lift up your tool upon it, you have profaned it” (Exodus 20:21). This rule forbidding tools of metal applied to the building of the Temple as well. So how could one build this incredible structure out of enormous stones without metal tools?

King Solomon, who built the First Temple, asked this exact question. He “said to the rabbis, ‘How shall I manage [without iron tools]?’ They replied: ‘There is the shamir, which Moses used for the stones of the ephod’” (Gittin 68b).

According to legend, the shamir was a tiny, worm-like creature, the size of a barley-corn, that was one of 10 things created at the very end of the sixth day of creation (Pirkei Avot 5:6). The shamir was able to cut through any hard substance (Sotah 48b). The first instance in which the shamir was put to work was to etch the names of the tribes on to the twelve gemstones of the High Priest’s breastplate.

After the sages told Solomon about the shamir, he went to great lengths to find it (even asking demons for help - Gittin 68a), and he had to capture it from the care of a certain hoopoe bird. Thus it is recorded that the Temple “was built of stone made ready at the quarry; and there was neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building (I Kings 6:7).

Upon the completion of the building, the shamir was wrapped in wool and kept in a lead container. “When [the Second] Temple was destroyed, the shamir ceased [to exist] (Sotah 48b).

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Great and Small

Be conscientious of all forms of life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Praying in Many Ways

Many nutritionists recommend that a person should have three square meals a day to maintain his/her physical well-being. Spiritual nutritionists (our sages) recommend that for the utmost in spiritual well-being, a Jew should pray three times a day (Shacharit, the morning service, Mincha, the afternoon service, and Maariv, the evening service).

Assuming that prayer is, in effect, an individual’s conversation with God, should we not pray as the prophet Jeremiah recommends in the Book of Lamentations (2:19), “Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord”? How can we pour out our hearts when the rabbis have mandated fixed times for prayer? Must we feel inspired just because it’s time for prayer?

The Jewish people have a special relationship with God. King David captured that relationship when he wrote (Psalms 148): "Praise God from the heavens, praise Him in the heights...Praise God from the earth...Young men and also maidens, old men together with youths. Let them praise the Name of God, for His Name alone is exalted." No matter where we are, or when it is or what inspired us, we can always open a dialogue with God. Whether we want to thank God for the goodness He has bestowed upon us, ask Him for help, or to just simply connect, God is always there for us.

But what happens when we become indifferent to the glory of God’s world, when our daily routines become rote? When we walk past the beautiful field twice a day for 365 days a year...when we stop being thankful for the world around us. It becomes a little harder to see God’s hand in the world.

So the sages made set prayers at fixed times, not to limit one's conversations with God, but rather, to ensure a minimum time in dialogue per day. After all, the flowers blossom whether we acknowledge them or not!

This Treat was last posted on December 15, 2008.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Part Of

Make prayer a part of your life.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Rabin

Yesterday, 12 Cheshvan, was the 20th anniversary of the death of Yitzchak Rabin, who was assassinated on November 4, 1995.

Born in Jerusaem on March 1, 1922, Rabin grew up in Tel Aviv. He entered the military service in 1941 when he joined the newly formed Palmach. During World War II, he fought for the British authorities, but later fought against British control of the Land of Israel.  In 1964, Rabin was appointed the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, and was thus in charge during the 1967 Six Day War.

In Rabin’s post military career, he first served as the Israeli ambassador to the United States for five years. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Rabin was elected to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and was appointed Minister of Labor by Prime Minister Golda Meir. When Meir resigned, Rabin became Prime Minister. He led the country for two years, during which time the Sinai Interim Agreement was signed with Egypt and the passengers on a hijacked plane at the Entebbe (Uganda) airport were rescued during Operation Entebbe*. Rabin resigned when it was determined that the family’s U.S. bank account, opened while he lived in Washington, D.C., was in breech of Israeli law due to its lack of authorization.

Rabin remained an active Member of Knesset and served as Minister of Defense from 1984-1990.

Rabin’s second term as Prime Minister, which began in 1992, is best-known for the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which were signed on September 19, 1993. Rabin also signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994. The same year, he, along with Shimon Peres and Yassar Arafat, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Less than a year later, Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Israeli citizen.

*The operation's code name was Thunderbolt. It was later renamed Operation Jonathan.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Give a Little

Set aside a few extra dollars a month to use for unexpected charity.

Friday, October 23, 2015

What's In The Book: Proverbs

A proverb is defined as “a short popular saying that expresses effectively some commonplace truth or useful thought” (dictionary.com). As its name reflects, the Book of Proverbs is a collection of just such thought-provoking statements, which are attributed to “the wisest of all men,” King Solomon and King Hezekiah and his circle.

After a brief introduction in which Solomon declares his reasons for composing the book (That the wise man may hear, and increase in learning, and the man of understanding may attain unto wise counsels - 1:5), Proverbs’ most defining statement is written: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but the foolish despise wisdom and discipline” (1:7).

The Book of Proverbs has several distinct sections. The first several chapters of the Book of Proverbs appear to be the advice of a father to his son, or a grown man to a youth, much of the second half is written in the form of contrasting descriptions such as: “A wise son makes a glad father; but a foolish son is the grief of his mother” (10:1), “A false balance is an abomination to God; but a perfect weight is His delight” (11:1), and “A soft answer turns away wrath; but a grievous word stirs up anger” (15:1). The most famous section of the Book of Proverbs  is comprised of the final 21 verses, which are known Aishet Chayil, and extol the virtues of the Woman of Valor.

The Book of Proverbs was included in the Biblical canon as one of the works of Writings (Ketuvim). As such, it is considered a non-prophetic book of wisdom that has important life-lessons  to offer every generation.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wisdom Message

Teach the younger people in your life about the wisdom of Judaism.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Who Was Rava?

The scholars of Babylon had a tremendous impact on Jewish life. Many of the greatest rabbis came from the academies in Babylon, whose thoughts and opinions were recorded in the Talmud. Among these great Babylonian scholars was a sage called Rava.

Rava’s real name was Abba ben Joseph ben Chama. Both his father and grandfather were  respected sages as well. Raised in the town of Machuza, Rava was a student of the nearby Academy of Pumbedita (in what is today Falluja, Iraq). Rava’s rise to scholastic greatness was matched by his fellow student Abaye, with whom he is paired throughout the Talmud. In almost all of their recorded debates, however, the halachic ruling follows Rava’s opinion.

It is interesting to note that Rava is quoted saying, “I had asked three things of God: the wisdom of Rav Huna, the riches of Rav Chisda, and the modesty of Rabbah bar Rav Chuna, The first two requests were granted me, but not the third”(Talmud Moed Katan 28). His actual humility, however, was confirmed by the fact that he graciously stepped aside when Abaye was appointed as head of the Pumbedita Academy, even though Rava was acknowledged to be the greater scholar. After Abaye’s death, the students of Pumbedita looked to Rava as their leader, even though he was the head of the Academy in Machuza.

Rava’s wealth came from his wine business. Consequently, Jewish Treats will leave you with one interesting anecdote that demonstrates his excellent character, as well as his skill as a winemaker: “When Rava learnt this [that something he said had offended his teacher, Rav Joseph], he went before him on the eve of the Day of Atonement, and found his attendant mixing him a cup of wine.* ‘Let me prepare it for him [as a sign of respect],’ said he. So he gave it to him, and he mixed the cup of wine. On drinking it he observed, ‘This mixture is like that of Rava the son of Rabbi Joseph ben Hama” (Talmud Nedarim 55a).

*It was common to mix and dilute wine.

Happy For You

Put aside feelings of jealousy and be truly happy when others succeed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Star Symbol

Looking for a nice piece of Judaica? Why not go for something really Jewish, like a Star of David. This ancient symbol of Judaism is...well, actually, although the Star of David is a popular Jewish symbol today, it isn’t an ancient Jewish symbol at all

The Star of David, also known as the Magen David (Shield of David), is supposedly the shape of the shield that was carried by King David. However, there are no Biblical descriptions of King David’s shield, nor have any archeological artifacts of such a shield ever been found. While there have been some ancient Jewish sites discovered with designs similar to a modern day Star of David, interlocked triangles were not an uncommon symbol in the ancient Middle East and North Africa.

It was not until some time in the 17th century that the Star of David began to appear as a Jewish symbol, particularly outside synagogues, possibly in contrast to the cross placed on the doors of a church.

The 1600s were also a time when kabbalistic (mystical) study flourished. As the Magen David became common, the kabbalists saw great meaning in its design. For instance, the six points represent six directions (East, West, South, North, Up and Down) while the empty space created in the middle represents the world as a whole.

Because this six-pointed star was associated with King David, the famed warrior who greatly expanded the borders of ancient Israel, it is not at all surprising that it was quickly adopted as a symbol by the early Zionist movement and is today the central symbol on the Israeli flag.

While the history of the Jewish star may surprise us, today it is almost universally accepted as a symbol of Judaism.

This Treat was last posted on December 8, 2008.

Be Proud

Express your pride in your Jewish heritage.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

For Dew and Rain

As indicated by Jewish prayer, the rainy season in the land of Israel begins just after the holiday of Sukkot and ends at the start of Passover. During this time, there are two special phrases that are added to the Amidah, the central prayer of each service. The first - Mashiv ha'ruach u'morid ha'geshem, Who causes the wind to blow, and the rain to fall - is an expression of praise added to the second blessing of the Amidah beginning with the Mussaf service on Shemini Atzeret. The second insertion - v’tein tal u’matar, And bestow dew and rain for blessing* - is a request added to the ninth blessing of the Amidah (the blessing for a year of economic well-being). But, the date on which this phrase is added depends on where one lives. Those residing in the land of Israel begin saying V’tein tal u’matar on the 7th of Cheshvan (today). Those living outside of Israel, however, add it at the beginning of December.**

Whereas mashiv ha'ruach focuses specifically on rain for the land of Israel, v’tein tal u’matar is connected to one’s individual success, which is why it is included in the request for a year of economic well-being. The sages therefore took into consideration the well-being of the individuals and set the date for beginning to pray for rain on the 7th of Cheshvan, two weeks after the end of the holiday, so that the farmers who came to Jerusalem would be able to get home before the rains begin.

At the same time, the sages were concerned with the needs of the great number of Jews who lived in Babylon. Following Babylon’s seasonal schedule, the sages set the time to recite v’tein tal u’matar 60 days after the halachically recognized fall equinox. While the diaspora has expanded to encompass the entire world, the date for those living outside the land of Israel remains the one set for Babylon. This year, that date correlates to December 5th on the Gregorian calendar.

* The rest of the year, one recites - v’tein bracha And bestow blessing - at this same point in the prayer
**Due to the calculations of the Gregorian calendar, this date shifts by one day every century or so.

Gratitude for Rain

When it rains, let yourself feel a sense of gratitude.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Revealing Sodom

With recent news reports about the possible discovery of the ruins of the ancient city of Sodom, Jewish Treats presents a taste of the city's evil nature as recorded in the Midrash:

"Now, they had beds upon which travelers slept. If he [the guest] was too long, they shortened him [by cutting off his feet]; if too short, they stretched him out...If a poor man happened to come there, every resident gave him a denar (coin), upon which he wrote his name, but no bread was given to him. When he died, each came and took back his denar...A certain maiden gave some bread to a poor man, [hiding it] in a pitcher. Once the matter becoming known, they daubed her with honey and placed her on the parapet of the wall, and the bees came and consumed her. Thus it is written (Genesis 18:20), ‘And the Lord said, The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah, because it is great:’ whereon Rab Judah commented in Rab's name: On account of the [cries of the] maiden" (Talmud Sanhedrin 109a).

It was not only outsiders to whom the people of Sodom demonstrated their corrupt sense of morality:

“Rabbi Levi said: [God said]: ‘Even if I wished to keep silent, justice for a certain maiden does not permit Me to keep silent’ For it once happened that two damsels went down to draw water from a well. Said one to the other, ‘Why are you so pale?’ ‘We have no more food left and are ready to die [from starvation],’ replied she. What did she do? She [the other maiden] filled her pitcher with flour and they exchanged [their pitchers], each taking the other’s. When they [the Sodomites] discovered this, they took [the maiden who helped her friend] and burnt her” (Genesis Rabbah 49:6).

The people of Sodom weren’t just stingy, they were outright malicious to those in need. God destroyed the city because the city represented the true and utter perversion of justice in the world.

Others' Sake

Do not turn your back on someone in need.

Friday, October 16, 2015

This Day is Honored

Shabbat meals, like many aspects of Jewish life, are a beautiful synthesis of our physical and spiritual selves. Physically, we enjoy delightful feasts at which our most beautiful tableware is used and delicious foods are presented. Spiritually, we elevate ourselves through the sanctification of the day (Kiddush) and the divrei Torah (words of Torah) shared at the Shabbat table.

Singing zmirot, special Shabbat songs, is also an excellent means of physically and spiritually elevating the Shabbat meal, especially as song brings joy to both body and soul. Although many of the traditional Shabbat zmirot are somewhat abstract in their exact meaning, one of the most popular songs for Shabbat day, Yom Zeh Mechubad, is a true paean to the day of rest.

Yom Zeh Mechubad: The chorus of this song (Yom zeh mechubad mee’kohl yameem, kee vo shavat Tzoor oh’lameem) means “This day is honored above all days, for on it He Who fashioned the universe, rested.”

The five verses that follow serve to glorify the precept that “The Holy One, Blessed be He, said until Israel: ‘My children, borrow [money for your Shabbat needs] on my account and celebrate the holiness of the day, trust in Me, and I will repay” (Beitzah 15b). The first verse reiterates the basic commandment of Shabbat, that six days one may work, but the seventh day belongs to God. The concluding verses describe the ways in which one honors Shabbat and reiterates the Divine assurance that “You will lack nothing on it, you will eat, be satisfied, and bless God...” (Stanza 4).

The author of this simple but beautiful zemer is unknown, although, based on the first letter acrostic of each verse, it appears that his first name was Israel.

Listen to one version of the song by clicking here.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sing for Shabbat

Use song to enhance the spirit of your Shabbat.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Keeping Those Hands Clean

Today is Global Handwashing Day, a global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives." Judaism encourages frequent handwashing, as noted in one of the very first Treats presented by Jewish Treats:

Some people wash their hands obsessively, while others are careful to use hand sanitizer. For the “clean freaks” among us, perhaps the "Employees must wash hands" sign is disturbing. After all, what about everyone else?


Jewish law calls for the washing of one's hands after many mundane actions, such as before eating (especially when eating bread), after cutting one's nails or touching one's feet. Hygienic? Certainly. But in this case, water is used to remove “spiritual impurities” that come upon the hands from touching certain body parts or due to general contact with a not-so-clean, physical world (a Kabbalistic idea).

Jews are charged to strive for a level of holiness (Leviticus 19:2), which is accomplished through preparing for, and participating in, holy activities. Washing one’s hands before eating turns eating into a holy act (“We eat to live!” - Proverbs 13:25). Washing after leaving the restroom enables one to properly participate in a holy act. Many people also wash their hands before prayer. The significance is obvious.

In the first two examples cited, the washing of hands is followed immediately by the recitation of a blessing. The washing and the blessing help us recognize that food is a gift of God and acknowledge God’s role in allowing our body to function properly.


This Treat was last posted on August 1, 2008.


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Spiritually Aware

Be aware of your spiritual health as well as your physical health.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Bit of Melodrama

If you are looking for melodrama, if you like soap operas and emotional turmoil, then one really need not look much further than the Book of Genesis. Adam finds his “soulmate” Eve, Cain murders Abel, and Noah and his family survive the first apocalypse. One would think that surviving the flood would be quite enough drama for one person’s life, but, once re-established on land, Noah and his family had to rebuild everything.

It was not an easy task, and the challenge was certainly compounded by the fact that Noah and his family were meant to build a more moral society than the one that had been destroyed. And yet, that was the only society they had ever known. These factors may very well have been what led to the incident of Ham and the cursing of Canaan.

After disembarking from the ark and thanking God appropriately, Noah began to farm the land. He planted a vineyard and, seemingly at the first opportunity, got drunk. The Torah then reveals that Noah’s son “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father (who had passed out from inebriation in his tent), and told his two brothers who were outside” (Genesis 9:22). Shem and Yaphet went to cover their father, making sure to treat him with respect and dignity.

The Torah is very vague about what actually occurred while Noah was passed out, saying only that he [Noah] “knew what his youngest son had done to him.” Noah’s response, as recorded in the bible was to declare: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers...” (Genesis 9:24-25).

Countless commentators have written about what crime was committed (ranging from simply embarrassing one’s father, to castration), by whom (Ham or Canaan) and why Canaan was cursed. Since, by Divine will, the details are not included in the text, an explanation can only be surmised. Whatever it was, however, it forever affected the history of the nations.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Father, Grandfather, Great-Grandfather

Honoring one's parents includes honoring their parents as well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Building Off Failure

Today, October 13, is marked as the “International Day for Failure,” a day meant to encourage people to “celebrate our shortcomings and failures, share our experiences and promote the understanding of failure as a learning experience.” The creators of the “Day for Failure” encourage people to quite literally “share” their stupidities, errors and awkward moments with others.

The Torah recognizes the importance of learning from the errors we make and actually records how the foundations of human history are built on failures. Without the failure of Adam and Eve to abide by the one rule of the Garden of Eden - not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad - humankind might never have progressed, and would not have faced the challenge of learning how to build mature relationships with the Divine (relationships in which they could demonstrate true gratitude, since all was not simply given to them).

The failures of early humanity recorded in the Torah are epic. Cain murdered Abel, the generation of the flood erred so greatly that they were destroyed, Noah got drunk after the flood as soon as he came out of the ark, an entire generation tried to revolt against God when they built the tower of Babel, and onward. Following each failure, however, humankind moved forward. Most of the great “heroes” of the Torah also have their failings recorded.

Today is also the last day of the month of Tishrei, the month in which the Jewish people focus on teshuva, the act of repentance. To err is human - but to strive to do better is to aim for the Divine.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Try Again

Accept your mistakes as stepping stones to reaching your goal. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Italkim, the Italian Liturgy

It is believed by many, that the first Jews to have traveled to the land now known as Italy came to Rome as ambassadors sent by Judah Maccabee (of Chanukah fame). Certainly it was not long after their successful rebellion against the oppressive Syrian-Greeks that the Hashmonite kings of Judea made an alliance with the up-and-coming Roman Empire. Under the dominion of Rome, the Jewish community began to spread throughout the known world (some by choice, others by force). The Italian Jewish community was established in those ancient times and has remained substantially distinct.

Whereas most Jews are classified as either Sephardim (originating from Iberian Peninsula) or Ashkenazim (originating from Central Europe) - many of whom have settled in Italy throughout history - the Jews of Italy maintained their own distinct nusach (prayer format) known in English as the Italian Rite. These Italian Jews are sometimes referred to as Italkim. It is interesting to note that even among this small, specific community, there is a subdivision that reflects the customs between the Jews of northern Italy - minhag Italiani - and the Jews of Rome - minhag Bene Romi.

That which makes the Italkim community distinct lies in the prayer service. The order of the prayers, the tunes to which they are sung and even the inclusion of certain piyyutim (religious poems) are believed by some scholars to be closely matched to the liturgy followed in the Land of Israel in the days of the Talmudic sages (Ashkenazi and Sephardi liturgies derive from the later traditions of the Babylonian Talmudic Academies). Additionally, because one of the first major medieval Judaica printing presses was located in Italy (Soncino), the Italkim liturgy was better able to be preserved accurately.

This Treat was written in honor of Columbus Day. (Click here to learn about the Jewish community of Genoa.)

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Your Heritage

Explore the specific customs associated with the place from which your ancestors hail.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Flexible Invention

This summer you probably enjoyed a plethora of cold, refreshing drinks and a good number of them were possibly sipped through a straw while sitting by a pool (if not, we are allowed to dream!). It is a little known fact that the convenience of having the straw bend to meet one’s mouth is thanks to the creative thinking of an enterprising Jewish inventor.

Joseph B. Friedman, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 9, 1900, was a natural tinkerer. He prepared his first “marketable” product, the Pencilite (which was a “lighted pencil”) when he was 14. Eight years later, he was issued the first (of nine) U.S. patents for improvements to the fountain pen. As his early inventions and innovations were not sufficiently lucrative to support himself and his family, Friedman worked in real estate and later managed an optometry office.

The innovation that entered Friedman into popular cultural history, and made him rich, was the bend in the straw. The idea came to him when he watched his daughter Judith try to consume a milkshake through a stiff, straight straw that would not bend to accommodate her height. The actual innovation was quite simple. Friedman stuck a machine screw into the straw and then imprinted the created grooves onto the straw with dental floss. After the screw was removed, the grooves remained and the area became flexible.

Unable to find a manufacturer for his new straws, which he patented as “the drinking tube,” Friedman opened The Flexible Straw Corporation and created a special machine for the straws’ production. The company, which involved many of his extended family members either as financial backers or employees, lasted until it was sold in 1969.

Joseph B. Friedman died on June 21, 1982.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Create Shabbat

This week, create a special atmosphere to celebrate the reading of Bereishit (Genesis), the first parasha of the Torah.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

From the Balcony

Take a virtual tour of some of the best known historic synagogues and you may notice several common features: an aron kodesh (ark/cabinet) that houses the Torah scrolls, a bimah (raised platform) from which the service is led, and an ezrat nashim, a women’s section. This last feature, the separation of men and women during the prayer service, is, for many, a source of fundamental importance, and for others a source of great consternation. The roots of the division between men and women during prayer originate in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

In the Talmudic Tractate Sukkah, during a discussion of the Simchat Beit Hashoevah (the water libation ceremony), Rabbi Eleazar explained that “Originally [the walls of the Court of the Women] were smooth (without a balcony), but [later the Court] was surrounded with a gallery, and it was enacted that the women should sit above and the men below” (Sukkah 51b).

The text of the Talmud continues to explain that when the women sat in the inner chamber and the men in the outer chamber, there had been a problem with levity. When the chambers were switched, the problem persisted.

When some sages wondered how the expansion of the courtyard could be allowed to accommodate the holiday’s crowd, reasoning for the need for separation was brought from the Book of Zechariah, which states: “And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart” (12:12).  It was understood that if separation of genders was necessary in a time of mourning (when the evil inclination would have no sway over them), “how much more so now when they are engaged in rejoicing” (Sukkah 52a).

Although the Talmud refers to a balcony for the women’s section, many traditional synagogues have a physical partition known as a mechitza separating the men’s section and the women’s section.  

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Something to See

Enjoy an exploration of historic synagogue architecture.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Personal Responsiblity

In the beginning, there was...taking responsibility for one’s own actions. This important lesson is found in the very first portion of the Torah not once, but twice.

Adam and Eve were given total dominion over everything in the Garden of Eden with one exception: the Tree of Knowledge. The serpent lured Eve to the tree and seduced her into eating the fruit. Eve took one bite and immediately offered a bite to Adam. God approached them and they hid, until finally God accused them of their crime.

Adam’s immediate response to God’s accusation, however, was to pass the blame and say: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). Not only did Adam blame Eve for giving him the fruit, but he tried to blame God for giving him a mate who gave him the fruit.

Eve’s response was a little better: “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). Eve only blamed the serpent for convincing her to taste the fruit. While admitting to eating the fruit, both of their confessions were preceded by excuses. Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden.

And then there was Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, who famously responded to God’s inquiry about his recently slain brother Abel’s whereabouts, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Not only did Cain not admit to killing Abel, he, in fact, denied knowing where his brother was.

What would have happened if Adam, Eve or Cain had admitted their guilt and immediately repented their actions? We will never know. But stories found later in the Torah demonstrate that forgiveness is granted to those who properly acknowledge their misdeeds and amend their actions (e.g. Judah and Tamar).

This Treat was last posted on October 15, 2009.


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Did It

Take responsibility for your actions.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Beating the Willows

During Sukkot, there is a mitzvah to wave the four species (lulav, hadassim, aravot and etrog - palm, myrtle, willow and citron) every day except on Shabbat. In addition to this mitzvah, the four species are grasped together while special prayers are recited as congregants march around the Bimah (central platform) of the synagogue during the daily Sukkot Hoshanot service and during Hallel (with the exception of Shabbat). On the seventh and final day of Sukkot, the day known as Hoshana Rabbah, there is an additional ceremony performed known as the Beating of the Willows.

The history of this mitzvah is less clear than the other mitzvot of Sukkot, but its performance is described in the Talmud (TractateSukkot 44a). Actually, it is written therein that "the [beating of] the willow branch and the water libation [ceremony] were given to Moses at Mount Sinai.” The fact that the ceremony continued after the destruction of the Temple and outside the land of Israel is considered to be of Prophetic origin.

The performance of the seven hakafot (circles around the bimah) and the beating of the willows is universal, whether one is Ashkenazi or Sephardi - although there are different customs as to when in the service they are performed.  Following the hakafot of the hoshanot, a bundle (although a single branch may be used) of willow branches* is taken and beaten five times on the floor.

Because the origins of this ceremony are so cryptic, the meaning of beating the willow branches is the source of great conjecture, ranging from a connection to the Sukkot prayers for rain to an association with humility.
*The bunch of willow branches is also referred to as hoshanot.

This Treat was last posted on October 14, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

Tonight starts the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, literally the Gathering of the Eighth, a connected, yet independent holiday, that immediately follows Sukkot.

During the seven days of Sukkot, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, 70 bulls were sacrificed representing the original 70 nations of the world. The priests brought sin offerings for the nations, invoking a desire for universal atonement, peace and harmony.

Because of Sukkot’s focus on all nations, God ordained Shemini Atzeret to demonstrate God’s special love for the Jewish people--comparable to a host asking his/her best friend to stay after everyone else has left, in order to share a private moment and relish the time spent together.

Shemini Atzeret also doubles as the holiday of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), which marks the conclusion of the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah. On the same day that the Torah is completed, it is begun again, to show that Torah is always new and fresh and that our mitzvah to study Torah is neverending.

On the night of Simchat Torah (which is the second night of the holiday outside of the land of Israel), all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark. The bimah (platform or table on which Torah is read) is circled seven times by those holding the Torah scrolls with the congregation dancing joyously with them. Each encirclement, called hakafa, begins with a responsive prayer.
During the morning service, all the Torahs are again taken from the ark, and the hakafot, the joyous circling of the night before, are repeated. The final parasha (weekly portion) of the Torah, V’zot Ha’bracha (And this is the blessing...) is read. The final parasha is read over and over until everyone has been called to the Torah. In some congregations, several Torah readings take place simultaneously. Shortly thereafter, the beginning of the Book of Genesis is read, signalling that the Torah reading cycle has begun anew.


This Treat was last posted on October 15, 2014. 


Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Enjoy

NJOP and Jewish Treats wishes you and yours a joy-filled holiday.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Vanity of Vanities

Most people are unknowingly familiar with the beginning of the third chapter of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) because of the 1962 hit song by The Byrds:

"To everything - turn, turn, turn/There is a season - turn, turn, turn/And a time for every purpose under heaven."

Kohelet is one of the five megillot (scrolls) read on the different Jewish holidays (for a complete list, click here). Kohelet is read on Shabbat Chol Hamoed (intermediary days) of Sukkot. 

The scroll begins: "The words of Kohelet, the son of David, king in Jerusalem," and thus the name of the book. As King David had no son named Kohelet, the author has traditionally been identified as King David’s heir, King Solomon.

If there is one thread that binds the twelve chapters of Kohelet together, it is the phrase: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" (1:2). On the surface, this seems to be a rather depressing thought. However, that is not the message of Kohelet. It is the nature of humankind to not only take pride in one’s success, but to also take full credit for it. Certainly, people succeed as a result of their hard work, but only because this success is enabled by Divine Providence. 

The message of Kohelet is perhaps best summed up in the following verses: "I have seen the task which God has given to the sons of men to be exercised. He has made everything beautiful in its time;... man cannot find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end....But also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy pleasure for all his labor, is the gift of God" (3:10-13).

This too is one of the central ideas of Sukkot. Moving into a temporary dwelling emphasizes that the success of every person is, ultimately, in the hands of the Divine.

This Treat was last posted on October 8, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Great Hoshana (Hoshana Rabbah)

Rosh Hashana is known as the Day of Judgment (Yom Hadin), the day on which God judges the world. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which God finalizes His verdict on the judgments of Rosh Hashana.

But actually the days of judgment are not quite over.

According to tradition, as stated in the Zohar (3:31b): "This [Hoshana Rabbah] is the final day of judgment for water, source of all blessings. On the seventh day of Sukkot the judgment of the world is finalized and the edicts are sent forth from the King."

The days of judgment are not, it seems, truly over until the seventh day of Sukkot, which is why  the tashlich ceremony may be performed until Hoshana Rabbah. What is the connection?

On Rosh Hashana, God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come, including exactly how much one will earn in the coming year. Material endowments are one form of sustenance. On the holiday of Sukkot, however, God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come.

Since God is still sitting in His heavenly courtroom deciding the fate of the world, there is time to slip in a final appeal or to do an extra act of kindness in the hope of altering the scales of justice in one’s favor.

On Hoshana Rabba, extra hakafot (circles around the bimah) are added to the service, as well as the beating of the willows). In some communities, it is customary to stay up all night studying Torah. Additionally, many people eat a light, festive meal in the afternoon.

Hoshana Rabbah 5776 begins Saturday night.

This Treat was last posted on October 14, 2015.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Sukkot

Enjoy your Shabbat meals in a sukkah.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Rejoicing For The World

Among the unique rituals performed on the holiday of Sukkot were the additional offerings that were sacrificed in the ancient Temple. On the first day of the holiday, 13 young bulls were sacrificed, on the second day 12, on the third day 11, on the fourth day 10, on the fifth day 9, on the sixth day 8 and on the seventh day 7. In total, 70 bulls were offered. Sukkot is the only holiday on which the number of the sacrifices varies from day to day.

In the Talmud (Sukkah 55b) Rabbi Eliezer explains that these 70 offerings are brought "For the [merit of the] 70 nations of the world." Rashi, the famous 11th century commentator, explained that this was, "To bring a forgiveness [offering] for them [the 70 nations], so that rain shall fall all over the world."

One of the reasons that Sukkot is known as "Z’man Sim’chah’tay’nu," the time of our rejoicing, is that it follows immediately after the Yamim No’ra’im, the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). The Jewish people are especially joyful knowing that the world has just been judged and, please God, their prayers for atonement have been accepted. Most people, when they are happy and feeling confident, wish to share their joy with those around them. So too, at Sukkot, the Jewish people wish to share their happiness with the rest of the world.


Why does Rashi specify "so that rain shall fall all over the world"? Rain is the ultimate sign of blessing (when it falls in a timely manner and in proper proportion). Without rain nothing can live. Additionally, when all nations are sufficiently endowed with their needs (water, food, etc.) peace prevails, and peace is the greatest blessing of all. 

This Treat was last published on October 13, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

More Than A Harvest Festival

Few people refer to Sukkot by the name Chag Ha'Asif, Feast of the Ingathering, but the Torah specifically states: "And you shall observe...the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year" (Exodus 34:22). Perhaps this term is avoided lest the holiday be mistaken as a simple agricultural celebration. But, Sukkot is indeed an agricultural festival celebrated at the time of the harvest, when farmers bring in the fruits of their labor, and everyone prepares for the onset of winter. There is no question that, as a result of witnessing the miracle of harvest in the field, people are moved to be thankful to the Creator of all things. 

Sukkot, however, is more than a harvest festival, because it isn’t actually about the crop. It is a festival meant to help Jews focus on the Source of those crops. This is why Jews move out of their comfortable homes and into their temporary dwellings (the sukkah) just as the weather grows chilly. It is a striking reminder that there is a more powerful Force in charge of one’s success. One can plant and sow and fertilize at all the right times, but one can only reap if God provides all of the right natural factors (good soil, proper amounts of rain at the right time, the farmer’s health, etc.).

While we today may not live in agricultural settings, that does not mean that we are not constantly dependent on a force greater than ourselves. No matter what profession one practices, one’s success is affected by thousands of different factors each day. While we may not personally gather our crops, we must always celebrate and be grateful for, and aware of, the Source of our sustenance.

This Treat was last posted on October 12, 2014.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Happy Rain

Be grateful when rain falls.